Monday, February 3, 2014

The Writing Process / Brainstorming

Writing is my favorite subject to teach. I love learning about my students as they work through the writing process. They have such interesting ideas to share! I've spent many years honing my style of teaching writing in my second and third grade grade classrooms. A few years ago, I was offered my dream job. Now I teach writing and computer skills to my entire elementary school, kindergarten through 5th grade! I'm based primarily in the computer lab. This is the first of a series of posts to focus on each stage of the writing process as I implement it in my classroom. 
The activity cards above are from my Personal Narrative Writing Project~A Holiday to Remember (1st/2nd), Opinion Writing Project~A Better School Lunch (3rd/4th), and Opinion Writing Packet~The Best Fruit (1st/2nd).
Brainstorming is part of prewriting. I spend a lot of time on it. I think it's really important to take the time to help students to not only generate ideas, but to be able to discuss and share their ideas comfortably with other students.

Have you ever been in a staff development session and the presenter wants you to share ideas in front of the whole group? I don't know about you, but I sometimes feel nervous about sharing. I wonder if my ideas are similar to others' or if they're way off-track. I don't always feel comfortable telling what I think.

That's why I like to have students share their ideas in safe and comfortable situations with partner or small group activities that involve a lot of discussion and some movement. I like to pose a question or questions related to the writing topic for the activities. By brainstorming this way first, students are much more ready and willing to share and discuss their ideas when it's time for a whole group brainstorming and discussion session.

This works best if you have already established a caring classroom community. Fortunately, it's a goal at my school to continually work on class and team building.

These activities not only help students generate ideas, but they help them feel comfortable and confident.

Partner Activities

One of my favorite partner brainstorming activities uses pre-made cards. I create picture cards with questions for my students that relate to the writing topic. Students partner up and ask the questions on the cards. When done, students switch cards and find a new partner and repeat for several rounds.
These activity cards are from my Narrative Writing Packet~My Unusual Pet (3rd/4th) and Informative Writing & Interview Project~Community Helpers, (1st/2nd)

You can also have students ask a general question like "What is your favorite food, sport, animal? Where would you like to go for a field trip, vacation? Why?" and do the same partner activity without cards. 

Kids love the opportunity to move around and talk to their peers. I always walk around and monitor during this activity to make sure students are on-task and treating each other respectfully.

Small Group Activities

I also like to do small group brainstorming activities. I make up duplicate sets of six to eight question cards with questions related to the writing topic. Groups of three or four students take turns drawing and reading from their set of cards. The rest of the group takes turns sharing their answers. 

(Opinion Writing - A Better School Lunch & Pets! A Research Project)

Instead of making cards, you could number and list the questions you want students to discuss on the board.


Another thing I love to do for brainstorming is reading picture books aloud. I find it especially helpful for personal narrative writing projects. Students are often able to make personal connections with the story characters or events, which helps them come up with writing ideas. This is a more passive form of brainstorming, so I like to follow up the stories with partner or small group sharing of text-to-self connections.

I love Little Critter books by Mercer Mayer, Arthur books by Marc Brown, and Froggy books by Jonathan London.
Art Projects

I love art projects and feel that creativity is very important in education, but there isn't much time for art with the strong curricular focus nowadays. What I like to do is to weave art into writing projects. Many students love art and are eager to share their creations. Ideas that students generate with art can be carried over into their writing. I almost always have my students add some kind of illustration to their writing during the publishing, but sometimes it's great to START the writing project with art. Students get lots of ideas as they create and then share their peers.

These cute creatures are from my Valentine's Day Narrative Writing ProjectMonster Informative Writing Project, and A New Bug Informative Writing Project. All are differentiated for grades 1st/2nd & 3rd/4th.
As students share their thoughts and hear ideas from their peers, they'll be more than ready to move on to the next part of the writing process, prewriting.

What do you do for brainstorming in your classroom?


Sunglasses clip art by Ashley Hughes. Fonts by Kimberly Geswein.

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